How our Sins Can Be Forgiven


The Doctrine of Propitiation



The Propitiation For Our Sins

David Reagan


How can you know your sins are forgiven? How can you make perfect peace with God and be assured of a home in heaven? This booklet deals with this important subject. It does so by looking at the Bible doctrine of propitiation. Please do not be put off by this word. If you do not know what propitiation is, you are in the majority. However, by the time you get through with this booklet, it should make perfect sense to you. It is a powerful picture of salvation and a powerful Bible lesson in forgiveness and exactly how we get it. I encourage you to read on.


The word propitiation is a term that occurs in the King James Bible three different times. Unfortunately, many of the new versions leave the word out entirely. This omission, and others like it, is not taken seriously because people do not know what propitiation is. You may think that someone should take those long words out of the Bible. But these words mean something. There are not that many long words in the Bible, but the ones that are there have a special significance. God is trying to teach us something very important.


Bro. Luther Adkins, the founding pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, where I pastor, liked to tell a story about a new pastor who took a church. Shortly after he began his preaching there, a lady caught him after the services and complimented him, "You know, I really like your preaching. It don't have any doctrine in it nor nuthin'." He loved telling that story because some messages really do not have any doctrine in them "nor nothing." The doctrine of propitiation tells of eternal salvation from God's point of view. Please, do not take it lightly. It contains the key to eternal life for you.


The Meaning of Propitiation


1John 2:1-2 says, "My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world."


Notice the word propitiation here. It is also used in 1John 4:10 and Romans 3:25. We will go to these verses later. Propitiation means to satisfy the demands for justice. Propitiation teaches us that man is a sinner and that God hates sin because God is righteous. Therefore, sin must be judged and judgment was assigned to me by God the Father. The wrath of God is on all those who do not know Jesus Christ as their Saviour. However, when I trusted in Jesus Christ as my Saviour, He stood between me and the wrath of God. He took that wrath upon Himself, paid the price of my judgment, and gave me eternal life!  That is a blessed truth. It means that Jesus Christ satisfied God's demand for the righteous judgment of my sin. That is the doctrine of propitiation in simplicity. Let us look at it in further detail.


The Utter Sinfulness of Man


First of all, we must see the need for propitiation. In all of the places where propitiation is mentioned, the context is dealing with sins. We have a sin problem. The trouble is that we keep sinning. Even when we are not sinning, we lean towards sin because we have a sin nature.


1John 2:2 says, "And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world."


1John 4:10 says, "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins."


Notice that propitiation takes care of our sins.


Romans 3:25 says, "Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;"


This use of propitiation also deals with sins. In fact, this verse is a continuation of a sentence that began in verse 23, which says, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;"


There is a sin problem in this world and that sin problem infects every individual who lives in this world. You are born with a natural tendency to sin. You like to rebel. Watch children as they grow up. When mommy and daddy tell them not to do something, what is their natural tendency? Do they automatically want to obey? No! They have a sin nature that goes all the way back to Adam. They, and you, like to sin. Your flesh likes the things of this world. It likes to eat too much and look at things it ought not look at. It likes to fuss and complain. It likes to listen to gossip and pour it out of your mouth. It enjoys those things! Praise God for salvation, but we need to understand where we come from.


We like to take atheists to Psalm 14:1 where it says, "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good." We say, those fools say there is no God, and they are corrupt, and there is none of them that do goodóbut read a little further. 


In verses two and three, it says, "The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one."


God applies this to all men. You cannot get saved until you realize you are lost. You cannot realize you are lost until you know that you are a sinner and that your own sin condemns you. Many false teachers are telling people that they are good and that everyone is good in his or her heart. The Bible does not say that. It says that everyone is evil in his heart by his own nature. People do not like to hear this but it is the truth as found in God's holy word.


The teaching that everyone is good does not come from the word of God. It comes from the evil hearts of men. They say everybody is good because they deny that Book! If you believe the Bible, then you believe that we are sinners by nature and sinners by practice.


In Jeremiah 17:9, the Bible says, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" The next verse (Jeremiah 17:10) says that God knows the heart. He is the only one who knows just how deep and dirty our hearts are. He knows that the heart is deceitful above all things.


Isaiah 64:6 says, "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away." You may ask, "Where is the blessing in this information?" The blessing is that someone has taken care of that dirty, dark sin. But until you realize it is there, you cannot be saved. You have to be lost in order to get saved.  A lot of people have never realized that they are lost.


You must understand the utter sinfulness of man. Man is completely wicked. He is all parts evil. Even when he does good things, he does them for his own selfish nature.  He does them to make himself feel good, and to make himself feel a little bit superior to other people. Or, he does them because of what he expects to get out of them. The prideful, sinful nature that makes man commit crimes is the same nature that causes him to do good works! There is no way out for man, unless it is God's way.


The Absolute Holiness of God


Not only do you need to understand the utter sinfulness of man, you need to understand the absolute holiness of God. In Isaiah 6:3 the seraphim cried out, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. Holiness means that God has no blemish, or evil, or wickedness. Everything is pure, holy and righteous with God. He shines with a brilliant light that would strike us down and destroy us the very second we saw Him. He is that pure and that holy. 


Habakkuk 1:13 says, "Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?" God's eyes are so pure that He cannot even look upon our sinfulness. God is so holy that you and He could not exist in the same universe apart from the grace of God.


Job 25:4-6 says, "How then can man be justified with God? or how can he be clean that is born of a woman? Behold even to the moon, and it shineth not; yea, the stars are not pure in his sight. How much less man, that is a worm? and the son of man, which is a worm?"


Even the stars are not pure in God's sight; the moon is not pure in His sight. How can man be pure in His sight? We are as a worm. You say that this is not good for your self-esteem. But the best thing for you is to destroy your self-esteem. Your esteem ought to be in God and not in yourself. Even expressions of supposed humility may be pride. You do not need to go around saying, "I am a nobody; I am a nobody." That is an expression of pride. You are proud of your humility. You say, "Wait a minute, you are making everything a sin." You are getting it; you are getting it! We cannot do anything right in our own strength.


Some people go around with this false humility. The Bible talks about it in Colossians and calls it a "voluntary humility" (Colossians 2:18). Someone who loves God and has given his life to God does not have to act like a throw rug to be stepped on. He stands up tall, walks straight and goes where he is supposed to go because God is in charge of his life. He knows that he is not in charge of his own life. Paul said, "For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve." Paul did not go around saying he was a humble Christian all the time. His attitude was more like, "I serve the God of the universe and I have something to say for His sake." That is not false humility.


You are created by God and your very life depends upon Him. You have no right to live your life as you please. When you get to the point where you realize that you are nothing, but He is everything; that Jesus Christ came and died for you so that He might live in you; then you can begin to realize the joy and the freedom and the liberty and the peace available in the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!  We want to hold on to our own righteousness and do what good we can do. We want to hold on to some idea of our own goodness. But any good you have is God in you! If He is not in you, then there is no good in you.



The Righteous Demand for Justice


Not only do we see the utter sinfulness of man and the absolute holiness of God, but we also see God's righteous demand for justice. God demands that sin must be fully judged. The payment for our sin must be made. He cannot "just forgive" (as one modern song states it) because His own righteousness is at stake. He is absolutely righteous. As such, He demands that sinful actions be paid for by righteous judgment. This is where we get our own sense of righteous judgment.


Within you is there not a sense that rights ought to be rewarded and wrongs ought to be judged? Do you not know that people who do good ought to be blessed and people who do evil ought to pay for it? Is there not in each of us that sense of righteousness?  We think of Adolf Hitler and say that he should pay for his evil. Where did that feeling of "things ought to be made right" come from? God put that in you. That is part of your conscience. That is part of the nature given to you from God.


God says that righteousness must be satisfied and one of the demands of righteousness is justice! God is going to demand justice from each person one of these days. It does not look too good for us under these rules. We are utterly sinful and God is absolutely holy and now He absolutely demands righteous judgment. That is pretty bad for all of us. In addition to this, judgment is coming soon.


Psalm 9:7-8 says, "But the LORD shall endure for ever: he hath prepared his throne for judgment. And he shall judge the world in righteousness, he shall minister judgment to the people in uprightness." This is one verse of many that establishes the fact that God will judge the world in righteousness. In fact, His righteousness demands that sin be judged and that punishment equal to the sin be applied. This does not only refer to the sins of those who have wronged you; it is required of your sins also. Your sins must receive the righteous and absolute judgment of God.


In the New Testament, we find that judgment will be executed by Jesus Christ. You may think you are alright if Jesus is the One who judges you. But let's imagine this scene.   Suppose that you die and go to heaven and stand before Jesus, sweet Jesus. Surely, He will overlook your little faults. But He is the one who paid the price for your sins and suffered your hell for you. Yet in your life, you said to Him by your actions, "No thanks, I don't need you." Exactly what kind of emotion do you expect from Him at that point? If you have not received the mercy of God before you stand before Him; if you have rejected His gracious offer of salvation during this life; you have a place reserved for you in hell.


God is absolutely holy and the only way He can be consistent with Himself is to fully execute all judgment and justice in a righteous way. He cannot just overlook our sins. And He will settle everything in the end. You may wonder why God allows certain things to happen today. But you must understand this: He will not allow injustice to continue forever. God will settle all accounts. I do not know why God lets things happen to people specifically, but I know He will make all things right some day! The trouble is, when God makes all things right, what about your wrongs toward God? What about the things you have done and your guilt before God? We always want Him to make things right and fix the other person's wagon, but when it is our wagon, we do not want that taken care of in quite the same way. He is going to judge us too! He must judge us in order to be consistent with His own righteousness.


What will it be like to stand before God? Consider these verses:


Joel 2:11 says, "And the LORD shall utter his voice before his army: for his camp is very great: for he is strong that executeth his word: for the day of the LORD is great and very terrible; and who can abide it?" Think about that word abide. Who can just stay there in the presence of God's wrath? God will be angry when He comes. Who can abide it?


Nahum 1:6 says, "Who can stand before his indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger? his fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by him."


Malachi 3:2 says, "But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap:"


Revelation 6:17 says, "For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?"


No one will be able to stand before the righteous judgment of God! You may wonder if there are exceptions. Yes, and thank God for the exceptions. But before we deal with God's provision of propitiation, let me say something to those of you who do not know Jesus Christ as your Saviour. If you do not know the gracious salvation of Jesus Christ, you are not just facing the wrath of God in the future; the wrath of God has already been assigned to you.


John 3:18 says, "He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." This verse says that you have been "condemned already." You have already been judged and have been found wanting.


John 3:36 says, "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him." The word abideth is present tense. That means God has already assigned you a place in hell if you are not saved. We Christians talk about having our mansion in heaven; lost people already have their place in hell. It may be good law on earth to declare a man innocent until proven guilty, but we all come before God guilty to start with. You are not waiting to be declared guilty. You are condemned already.


You must find a solution to your guilt if you are going to be in heaven. That solution is propitiation. God is mad. I want you to understand that. He is very angry. The Bible talks about wrath. Wrath is a very strong word. It means extremely mad. Why is God so mad? Have you read a newspaper recently? If you were God and you were absolutely holy and you picked up today's newspaper and read through it, are you going to be happy about what is going on down here?


But not only does God know what the newspaper says; He knows what is going on in everybody's heart and in everybody's home and in every side room downtown. He knows everything that is going on. He knows what is going on at the Capitol. He knows what is going on with politics and in the Supreme Court. He knows what is going on all over this world. God is angry. We serve a God who loves, but we have taken His love and thrown it back in His face and said, "I don't need You God." What are you going to do about that anger and that wrath?  The problem is that you cannot do anything about it. You are already condemned. But praise the Lord, He has provided a solution for you. That solution is propitiation. Remember what we said earlier. Propitiation means to satisfy the demands for justice. Look at how this propitiation is provided.


The Provision of Propitiation


1John 2:1-2 says, "My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world."


Please consider four things about God's provision of propitiation.


First, propitiation is universal. It is offered to all men. And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. You know what? When Jesus Christ died on the cross, He offered to satisfy the wrath of God against every man, woman and child. 1Timothy 4:10 states, "For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe." He is potentially the Saviour of all men; He is specifically and especially the Saviour of those who accept Him by believing on Him. Jesus Christ is the Saviour of all men! When He died on the cross, He suffered everybody's hell all at once. He has suffered that judgment. He offers that salvation to all men; it is not held back from anyone. It is offered to you as it was offered to me! Oh glorious day when I trusted in Jesus Christ as my Saviour. Salvation is offered to all men!


Second, God's propitiation is offered because of love. 1John 4:10 says, "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." There have never been any instances in the history of mankind where man loved God before God loved man. The only reason we love God is because He loved us first (1John 4:19). God loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Do you see what motivated propitiation? It is motivated by God's love.


John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Though angry at sin, God could see each of us through that dense fog of sin and say, "That is a soul that will be somewhere eternally and I love that soul despite their sin; I love them so much that I will send my own Son; I will let them beat Him, mock Him, spit on Him, nail Him to a cross, and then I will let Him become sin for them. I will even turn my back on my own Son and turn my presence away from Him when He becomes sin because I cannot look upon sin. I am going to let Him suffer the hell of all those people because I love them."


Third, propitiation is offered by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. In Romans 3:25 we read, "Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God." It is the shed blood of Christ; it is His death on the cross that offered propitiation. I want to take you to Isaiah 53.


Jesus died for your sins and my sins, but He also died to satisfy the wrath of the Father against you. Isaiah 53:3-4 says, "He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted." Consider what this passage is saying: "We thought God was angry with His Son; that He was smitten of God. God was pouring His judgment out on the Son, but it was our sins that killed him."


Isaiah 53:5 says, "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed." When Jesus suffered on the cross, He became sin. He suffered and experienced the wrath of God on Himself. It was not because He had ever done anything wrong. No, Jesus was pure and holy and sinless. But His blood paid the price for our sins.


But not only did the blood of Jesus Christ pay for our sins, it is through faith in His blood that we receive the gift of propitiation. God set the Son "forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood" (Romans 3:25). The sinner must believe that the blood of Christ satisfied the wrath of God against our sins and trust in that blood payment. It is no wonder that the old hymn says, "What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus."


Fourth, propitiation satisfied the wrath of God against sin. Isaiah 53:10 says, "Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand." Jesus Christ accomplished God's purpose. Isaiah 53:11 says, "He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities." According to this passage, the Father saw the travail of His Son's soul and was satisfied.


Propitiation means the satisfaction of God's demand for judgment. It requires the pouring out of wrath upon sin. God knows that judgment must be applied. This is the only way that His righteousness can be satisfied. Judgment must be poured out upon the sin of that sinner, but Jesus said, "Father, put it on me." God then saw the wrath placed on the Son and the Father said, "That satisfies me; justice has been done. Righteousness has been taken care of. Now I can receive that one who is a sinner because they are in my Son."


2Corinthians 5:21 states, "For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." It is as if Christ is in one place and you are in another. Christ puts your sins on Himself and pays the judgment for those sins. Then, He says to you, "Take my righteousness," and He clothes you in the robes of His righteousness. Now when you stand before the Father, you do not stand in your own rotten rags. No, you stand in the very righteousness of Jesus Christ. What a wonderful gift!


How does this come about? Romans 3:25 reads, "Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God." The propitiation of Jesus Christ satisfied the anger of God against your sin. That provision comes through faith in Jesus Christ.


Ephesians 2:8-9 states, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." You find all through the Bible that we come to God by faith. Listen to Romans 10:9-10, "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation."


You must come to a point where you realize that you are a sinner, that the wrath of God is on you, that there is no way for you to stand before a holy God, that nothing in you can take care of your guilt, and that you must have His salvation. You cannot live well enough; you cannot keep the Ten Commandments. Baptism or church membership will not help you. All you can do is look to the One who paid the price on the cross and fall down before Him and believe in Him and the payment He made on the cross. You can say, "Lord Jesus, I believe You paid the price for my sins and right now I want to trust in You; I want you to save my dirty, filthy soul."


I am not giving you exact words. It is not the words that save you; it is the act of looking to Jesus in faith for salvation. I am talking about what comes from your heart. It is like the story John Bunyan told in Pilgrim's Progress. When Pilgrim came to the foot of the cross, he had been bearing a burden that had gotten heavier and heavier as he realized the depth of his sins. But when he kneeled at the foot of the cross and trusted in the One on the cross, the burden fell off his back and rolled down the hill.  Pilgrim never had to carry the burden around anymore. Pilgrim came to the cross and he looked up. This was a picture of him trusting in the Saviour; in His death on the cross, His burial and resurrection.


Over forty years ago, in 1963, though I was only a child, I felt my burden of sin and realized that I needed a Saviour. Did I understand the doctrine of propitiation? Of course not. But I understood that God did not like sin and I understood that I was a sinner. I knew that Jesus died on the cross for my sins, and I came and asked Him to be my Saviour. I trusted in Him that day. Over 40 years ago that burden rolled away. I have had many different kinds of burdens since that time, but I have never had that particular burden come back because it was taken care of at the cross. Has there been a time when you came to the foot of the cross?


Let me illustrate propitiation in this way: imagine you are on earth and you have displeased God; God is up in heaven and in His anger He throws a ball of fire at you. You look up into the sky and see the ball of fire coming closer and closer and you cannot hide from it. It is aiming right for you. It is as big as a mountain and it is coming at you. You cry out at the last minute saying, "Lord Jesus, I need you." And, at that very moment in time He appears and steps right in front of you, and that ball of fire representing the wrath of God the Father hits Him with all its might. He suffers tremendously and goes through terrible trials and suffers your judgment for you, but you stand there safe and secure because you have been received into God's family! He says, "Come my child; you are mine now." What a wonderful blessing!


Has that happened in your life? Has there been that time when you looked to Jesus and told Him you wanted to trust in Him? Do you believe in His death, burial, and resurrection? Do you know the guilt of your own sin and realize that it makes you fit only for hell? Would you come to the Saviour right now, tell him of your sinful state, and rely upon Him to save you? Would you trust in Him as your Lord and Saviour right now? Would you trust in His blood for the propitiation of your sins? Do not delay. Trust in Him today. Bow your head right now and call on Him in prayer. Confess your sins to Him. Tell Him that you believe in His death, burial, and resurrection. Express your faith in Him. Trust Him to save your soul. Tell Him that you want to follow Him and be His child. If you will come to him in faith with all sincerity and believe on the Lord Jesus, He will save you in a moment of time. He will satisfy the Father's demand that justice be served. He will make you a child of God. What are you waiting for? Do it. Do it right now.